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Each year, Gambit Weekly seeks to honor those individuals among us who are working in unique ways to make the communities of metro New Orleans better places to live. As in past years, the 40 men and women represented in these pages come from diverse backgrounds and offer diverse talents. From musicians to entrepreneurs, from scientists to restaurateurs, this year's honorees are notable for what they have already accomplished -- and what they are planning for the future of New Orleans.

 

Lionel Milton, 30
Artist

Perhaps the secret to artist Lionel Milton's success is found in the meaning behind the acronym "Elleone," a name he used as a streetwise painter of graffiti while in his teens that now is the name of his growing company: "Every Living Legend Excels On Natural Energy." The creator of a distinct and popular style of art that he describes as "colorful, funky, soulful, true," Milton is the world-traveling owner of a successful Magazine Street gallery that is on the verge of establishing a merchandise licensing operation that will produce everything from slippers to keychains. Yet long before his career-boosting appearance on the New Orleans season of MTV's Real World, Milton was creating cartoons and paintings as a young child. Recognition came in his early teens, when he was a graffiti artist transforming walls in Mid-City and warehouses along Tchoupitoulas Street into his personal canvases to express "just what I saw around me." In 1988, at age 15, Milton "went legit" by becoming one of the eight founding guild members of the YA/YA (Young Aspirations/Young Artists) group. As a student with YA/YA, Milton jumpstarted his career with exhibitions in Europe and a feature in Rolling Stone magazine. Now, Milton is three and a half years into ownership of the Lionel Milton Gallery, a decidedly unpretentious space where you'll find free beer on Fridays and DJs throwing down hip hop, soul and funk during Art for Arts' Sake. "Music is everything to me, and it's all in my art," Milton says, citing influences from favorites such as George Clinton's Parliament in a music/art blend that can be found in his commissioned official poster for this year's Voodoo Music Festival. "My art is like listening to your favorite jam -- except it's visual."

 

Scott Dawson, 34
General Manager, InterContinental New Orleans

A 34-year-old native of Scotland, Scott Dawson came here from New York a year ago so he could take charge as general manager of the InterContinental New Orleans hotel, a promotion that made him the youngest GM in the chain of 169 hotels worldwide. His first day on the job here was spent preparing for a hurricane that never came; a week later, a second hurricane approached then veered off -- to the delight of a convention of bird specialists meeting at his hotel. "We had 2,000 ornithologists in the ballroom who could not leave, and they were very excited, because the storm had driven in many species of birds that would never normally land here," Dawson says. "They saw all these birds right outside the front door of the hotel." In the 12 months since his hectic introduction to New Orleans, the InterContinental has regained its Four Diamond status, and its customer service rankings have climbed dramatically. He attributes the boost in part to his efforts to address the needs of the hotel's 270 employees. "There is no fantastic hotel in the world where the employees also are not satisfied -- it doesn't exist. You cannot have one without the other," says Dawson, who has worked in hotels from Chicago to Uzbekistan since he was 12 years old. Improvements to the Intercontinental include everything from new amenities for guests to renovation of the staff restaurant and locker room and the establishment of employee focus groups. "I'm famous for walking around the staff restaurant with a hot dog and talking about the Saints or the Hornets," he says. "They know I'm a crazy Scotsman who knows nothing about American football, but at least I make an effort." And the effort is apparently paying off.

 

Anna Duggar, 29
Forensic Scientist, New Orleans Police Department

At any crime scene, clues can be so subtle they're invisible to the human eye. It's Anna Duggar's job to identify them. Lots of people compare Duggar, a New Orleans Police Department technical specialist, with the characters on the hit drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. "CSI is a real double-edged sword for us," says Duggar, who specializes in forensic light examination. "It's got some glamour attached to it, and that's kind of fun. But on the other hand, what they're doing is science fiction! The technology they demonstrate on the show -- maybe in 20 years we'll be doing it." As an English and ecology major at Emory University, Duggar loved the sciences and law enforcement and was accepted into the prestigious Masters of Science program at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "Going through it, I thought it was just the most hideous experience!" laughs Duggar, recalling two years of intense stress. "But when I got out into the real world, I realized I was so well served by my education there. It was great preparation." Stints with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in New York City (where Duggar was a founding member of the elite Medical Examiner Scientific Assessment and Training Team) and with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, gave Duggar hands-on experience in several fields: serology, DNA preparation and collection, gunshot trajectories and wounds, latent print analysis, and blood spatter patterns. (Duggar is considered an expert in the latter.) Duggar, who is the only American Board of Criminalistics-certified criminalist in local law enforcement, loved teaching forensic science at the University of West Florida and hopes a teaching gig might be in her future here. But not to supplant her job with the NOPD, the Algiers native emphasizes. "With NOPD, I'm getting more experience on a daily basis than I knew you could get," she says. "I love this field."

 

Randy Kennedy, 36
Senior Vice President of Corporate Operations, Randa Corp.

As a native of the New Orleans area and current Old Metairie resident, Randy Kennedy has witnessed firsthand how the current economy is impacting the city and region. But as a senior vice president with the expanding, international Randa Corp., he has proved that positive, sustainable growth is possible here. The local leader on a project that kept the company's corporate headquarters here, Kennedy oversaw development of a $10 million St. Rose facility that will eventually house 250 employees. "Being native and local, I wanted to see business grow and develop here," Kennedy says. "We've proven to a huge, international company that you can run an efficient operation here. Some people outside of Louisiana don't have that perception. I travel to China, and we have offices all over the world, and for us to have our largest facility in the New Orleans area is pretty amazing, in my opinion." Eighteen years ago, Kennedy started off working as a stock clerk for Wembley Ties as "the lowest man on the totem pole," he recalls. He became vice president at 25 and remained with the company when Randa bought the locally owned Wembley Ties in 1997, working his way up to oversight of all international operations, warehouse distribution, engineering and purchasing. Randa is the world's largest men's accessories company, boasting $200 million a year in sales of neckwear, belts, wallets, suspenders and more for labels such as Levi Strauss and Dockers. "I feel that [the new facility] is a real big boon for the area in terms of economic development," Kennedy says. "It's one of the success stories you don't hear very much locally."

 

Lee Zurik, 29
Sports Reporter, Anchor and Managing Editor, WWL-TV

Lee Zurik grew up like a lot of other boys in his Uptown neighborhood, following local sports teams from high schools to Tulane and Louisiana State University all the way up to the Saints. Now 29 and back living in Uptown, Zurik still follows those same squads with keen interest, although that passion now comes with a paycheck as a sports reporter, anchor and managing editor for WWL-TV. Admitting to "knowing what I wanted to do since I was 10," Zurik began interning at WWL-TV while a high school student at Newman, where he was an offensive lineman blocking for current NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning. The teenage Zurik was no doubt influenced by WWL sports fixture Jim Henderson, later attending Syracuse University, Henderson's alma mater, because of the school's renowned broadcast journalism department. After college, he paid his dues working in Greenville, Miss.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Baton Rouge before finally returning home to New Orleans and WWL. Zurik says "the mix of everything" is one of his favorite aspects of his job. While assignments take him to Death Valley in Baton Rouge and on the road with the Saints, it's his job anchoring Fourth Down Friday, a popular weekly recap of prep football action, that brings Zurik the most satisfaction. "Day in and day out, prep coverage is what I enjoy the most," he says. "People are so passionate about it here; they really tune in for it. And the kids -- they're not playing for money, they're playing because they love to compete and they're having fun." Zurik claims to never have missed a Saints game from 1980 until he left for college. "It's fun to me to now be able to cover those same teams," he says. "It's different; you can't be a total fan -- I have to report this as a journalist. But it's still special to me."

 

Tammi Fleming, 32
Program Manager, Health Care for All, Kingsley House

Every weekday, the Kingsley House-based team of five "walkers and talkers" goes door-to-door in this city's housing projects. Since 1999, they have enrolled thousands of working-poor New Orleanians in Medicaid, the public-health plan for low-income people, or LaCHIP, the health-care plan for children. Health Care For All is such a success that several other big cities have flown in teams to observe and mimic Health Care For All's carefully implemented, grass-roots approach. It's the brainchild of program manager Tammi Fleming, who masterfully combines her academic knowledge with a practical sense of what actually works. Fleming, who grew up in the St. Thomas housing project, shaped the program's approach to the realities she knew. "I had lived a lot of the situations I was dealing with," she says. Marcia Bayne-Smith first met Fleming 13 years ago. "She was 19 years old, had a baby, was on welfare," says Bayne-Smith, a consultant for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which backs the project along with local funder Baptist Community Ministries. Through Job Corps, Fleming had begun volunteering for Plain Talk, a teen-pregnancy-prevention program. At night, she attended school, getting first a bachelor's degree and then a master's in public health. Within several years' time, she became head of the Plain Talk program and soon was tapped to launch Health Care For All. This fall, Fleming will speak at two national conferences about her work for Health Care For All and Plain Talk.

 

Jason Doyle, 27
President, Doyle Restaurant Group

Jason Doyle stretched the expectations of oenophiles citywide in March when he opened The Wine Loft, a Warehouse District wine bar whose list includes 300 wines by the bottle and 75 by the glass. He nevertheless maintains that he's not in the business of wine snobbery: "What we really sell is a social experience. Wine is just the background product that allows people to socialize." And socialize they do. While low, sofa-like banquettes set the lounge's living room-comfy tone, The Wine Loft is standing room only on weekends. Doyle's wife, Melissa, a nurse by profession, is "the brainchild behind the looks" of both The Wine Loft and Huey's 24/7, the deco-style CBD diner Doyle opened in July. Like The Wine Loft, says Doyle, the 24-hour diner fills a niche heretofore mainly ignored in downtown New Orleans. Huey's rush hour begins when most other restaurants are being put to bed. "We take the business no one else wants, from cab drivers to people in prom dresses. It's great; everyone is eating the same food," Doyle says. The young entrepreneur's career has been one long growth spurt. Originally from New Orleans, he studied hotel and restaurant management at the University of Houston. From there he moved up the ranks in the Houston's and Bravo! restaurant chains before returning to New Orleans to open the now shuttered Maison Bleu with partner Howard Ferguson. Doyle would enter into one more partnership -- purchasing Vaqueros restaurant -- prior to founding Doyle Restaurant Group. His next niche-filling project, already well underway, is a vodka bar. At press time, he could not disclose the bar's planned location but did promise to stock 140 vodkas from around the world, with caviar to match.

 

Caroline Page, 39
Cat Concerns Coordinator and Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Working at the Louisiana SPCA for several years taught Caroline Page how to be resourceful. Five years ago, she needed all the resourcefulness she could muster to address two huge challenges: getting the city's skyrocketing stray-cat population under control and developing a citywide animal emergency-preparedness plan -- without any money. At the time, feral-cat complaints were pouring in, and "every single call was 'Come get these blank-blank cats before I shoot them or poison them,'" Page recalls. She launched the Feral Cat Initiative, which works with residents to trap feral cats and bring them into the LA/SPCA. There, they are sterilized, tested for feline leukemia, vaccinated and then released into their original colonies. (Feral cats are unsuitable for adoption.) Initially, Page went door-to-door and hung fliers to advertise the free program. Last year, it was one of 10 "innovative projects" chosen for a $20,000 grant from the national SPCA and Fresh Step cat litter. The nonprofit now shows a 17 percent drop in cat euthanasia as compared to five years ago. Page's emergency-preparedness task was no less demanding. When Hurricane Georges just missed New Orleans in 1998, the city realized how unprepared it was to deal with animal issues during a disaster. Page has been working with city officials to develop animal sheltering and evacuation procedures. Her efforts were tested last year during Hurricane Lili, when the LA/SPCA was called to Lake Charles to evacuate its animal shelter. "It made a great drill," says Page, who mentions the emergency-preparedness project also started out with nothing and has since acquired an air-conditioned animal-transport vehicle. "Each year, if you make a little progress," she says, "then you can make a big difference over time."

 

Rich Collins, 34
Scott Durbin, 34
Dave Poche, 36
Scott "Smitty" Smith, 34
The Imagination Movers

It would be a fairy-tale beginning for any band: a group of neighborhood friends begins messing around with lyrics and melodies; they scrape together funds and self-produce a CD that quickly sells out; at the CD-release party, a line of more than a thousand fans extends down the block. Welcome to the year of the Imagination Movers -- a year in which, as bandmember Rich Collins puts it, "everything that could go right, is going right." Since its public debut at the Krewe of Muses' 2003 float-viewing party, this DIY kiddy quartet has gained a rep for music that's equally enjoyed by children and their parents. The Movers proffer an irresistible blend of rock, hip-hop and world beat, all layered with catchy and, yes, educational lyrics. Tying it all together is a vibe that comes straight outta New Orleans. "It's a party and everybody's invited to get involved in the music. It's part of living here, of New Orleans brass and bounce," says Scott Durbin. When not wearing their blue Movers jumpsuits, each of the four musicians has a day job: as a Newman teacher (Durbin), an Orleans Parish rookie firefighter (Scott Smith), a Web marketer (Collins) and an architect (Dave Poche). Because all but Smith have young children of their own, all band rehearsals take place at 9 p.m., post kids' bedtimes. They work on new tunes together and share songwriting credits, in what Poche says "is truly a collaborative effort." Agrees Smith: "We get together and say, 'Let's do a Halloween song.' Someone has a bass line, someone has some lyrics, and two hours later, we're knocking out a Halloween song." (The result of that particular rehearsal can be heard at www.imaginationmovers.com.) Often, the band will run lyrics by childhood development experts, to back up what they intuit as dads, teachers and grown-ups who have a special knack at remembering what it's like to be young. Explains Collins: "As anyone who lives with a little kid knows, they're more intellectually and emotionally complex than anything in popular culture realizes." Future plans include childrens' books and a TV show (in fact, the Movers started out as characters for a planned TV pilot). Poche acknowledges that this busy schedule means "a lot of sacrificing going on at the home front." But, says Durbin, it's the live shows that keep it all real: "One of the good things is that we're in an environment that is always humbling. You're dealing with kids. They don't fake smiles."

 

Jeffrey Ory, 28
Senior Communications Strategist, Deveney Communications

Up until his senior year of undergraduate studies at Loyola University, Jeffrey Ory thought he wanted a career in medicine. Then the pre-med biology major realized that something else he was doing -- interning with the university's alumni department -- held great promise. Based on that outside-the-classroom experience, he switched his focus to public relations and has never looked back. In his six years at Deveney Communications, the New Orleans native has established himself as a leader in his field, winning international recognition and solidifying an impressive national client base. A four-time recipient of the International Association of Business Communicators' highest award, the Gold Quill, Ory also has the distinction of having received the Jake Wittmer Research Award and the Public Relations Society of America's Best of Silver Anvil. In large part thanks to Ory's efforts, Deveney Communications was named the 2003 New Orleans Regional Chamber of Commerce Rising Tide Small Business of the Year, as well as the 2003 Small Business of the Year by the Louisiana Department of Economic Development. The former biology student no doubt still uses his early course work, counting the Utah-based health information and data company Ingenix among his clients and recently expanding his role with the enterprise to include their European operations. Earlier this year, Ory also worked with the Louisiana Physical Therapy Association on its successful campaign to provide direct access to physical therapists for all Louisianians. An active volunteer with organizations such as the New Orleans Speech and Hearing Center, Loyola University (where, among other things, he mentors public relations students) and the New Orleans Museum of Art, Ory believes in giving back to his hometown. "I try to wave my New Orleans flag wherever I go," he says.

 

Adam Shipley, 39
General Manager, Tipitina's
Lee Frank, 36
Promotions Director, Tipitina's

For Adam Shipley and Lee Frank, the fifth year has been the charm. Tipitina's general manager and promotions director, respectively, began 2003 with the historic, venerable live-music venue's 25th anniversary celebration. And things only got better over the course of the year at the club, originally opened by music lovers who wanted to create a place for local legends -- like Professor Longhair -- to continue New Orleans' rich musical heritage. That Tipitina's has adjusted to a more competitive live-music market over the past five years is a testament to the aggressive leadership of this pair of native Floridians, who have readjusted and tapped deeper into the local and regional music scene while keeping an eye on appropriate touring acts. Shipley and Frank have taken the annual Instruments A-Comin' benefit -- which during Jazz Fest raises $20,000 to help pay for instruments for two area high school marching bands -- and made it one component of the Tipitina's Foundation. Under the stewardship of WWOZ DJ Bill Taylor and musician Donald Harrison, the foundation also provides an instrument recycling program where people can contribute no-longer-needed instruments to The Music Exchange's Jimmy Glickman, who spiffs up the instruments and donates them to high school students. Also, Tipitina's owner Roland Von Kurnatowski has charged Shipley with running the Tipitina's Internship Program (TIP), through which the foundation will help students learn more about the music business at its headquarters inside the old Fountainbleau Hotel in Mid-City. "In the sixth, seventh and eighth floors, we have band rehearsal space, and also on the eighth floor, a recording studio," Shipley explains. "And on the fourth floor, Internet and film equipment. So maybe a kid might not become a professional musician, but we can show him other aspects of the business, like recording, management and publicity." To show just how connected the club is to the community, Shipley followed up the success of the club's recording of the Lil' Rascals' 2001 CD, Buck It Like a Horse, with an even more ambitious project: the first comprehensive brass-band compilation since Shanachie Records' 1998 release, Kickin' Some Brass. He tapped Frank to produce the album, adding another feather to the cap of a man who in 2003 also became the manager for Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. It was a natural progression. "It was great having the ability to learn about a variety of aspects in the music business by working at Tipitina's," says Frank, himself a former musician. "It was by making all these contacts and seeing which way the branches can grow from the tree, and all those things can benefit the tree -- being Tipitina's, in a sense." The duo isn't finished. Next up are a CD and companion documentary of the ReBirth Brass Band's wildly popular 20th anniversary celebration over two nights this past May.

 

Victoria Cooke, 39
Curator of European Paintings, New Orleans Museum of Art

Academically, the University of Delaware was a great place for Victoria Cooke to earn her Ph.D in Art History. But by winter, the Southern-born Cooke was ready to come home. "I survived one blizzard there, and once my coursework was done I fled," laughs Cooke. "I needed to come back to New Orleans." Fortunately for the city, she did: Cooke, hired as an associate curator by the New Orleans Museum of Art, was thrown into a "trial by fire" when Gail Feigenbaum, then-lead curator for NOMA's ambitious Jefferson's America and Napoleon's France exhibit, resigned -- leaving Cooke to complete the immense task. NOMA's largest-ever exhibit, considered by many to be the crown jewel of the state's Louisiana Purchase bicentennial events, amassed hundreds of artifacts and artworks from across the United States and Europe. It was a "very complicated" endeavor, Cooke says. "A lot of the institutions that we borrowed from in Europe don't lend regularly and were not accustomed to the things that go along with lending." To make matters more challenging, NOMA began importing artifacts from France around the time the United States declared war on Iraq. "It made everyone nervous to fly objects on a plane," Cooke recalls. Ultimately, everything arrived in time for the exhibit's April 12-Aug. 31 run. Cooke was soon named curator of European paintings and is now working on a 2005 exhibit featuring French Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot and her contemporaries. She says this job is not so different from the teaching career she'd originally planned. "I love to teach, but it wasn't until I became a curator that I found out it was really the right place for me," Cooke says. "Unlike being in the classroom, you get to work with the actual objects and bring those objects to the public."

 

W. Anthony Patton, 33
President/CEO, Ebonetworks.com

W. Anthony Patton's professors in the University of New Orleans' MBA program knew he had more than just a good idea when he presented the business plan for Ebonetworks.com as his final project. "They told me, 'This shouldn't be just a school project, you should really do it,'" Patton remembers. Following that advice and managing to not just survive, but indeed thrive, Patton describes his company as "a network of Web portals that communicates to African-American professionals who are ages 25 to 44, affluent, college educated and hip." Learning that 23 percent of the nation's African-American population lives within a 500-mile radius of New Orleans, Patton, a native Midwesterner, found his new home an ideal headquarters for his company, whose local Web portal is NewOrleansBlack.com. With Ebonetworks.com now in its fourth year, Patton jokes that he "rewrites the business plan every six months," but the company has proven flexible and able to expand. Houston, Dallas, Memphis, Tampa and Atlanta all have affiliate Web sites, along with smaller markets such as Baton Rouge and Mobile, Ala., and there are plans to enter into untapped places such as Jackson, Miss. Locally, NewOrleansBlack.com presents two regular events, First Fridays and Uptown Saturday Nights. First Fridays is held the first Friday of every month and is "a business networking series" with themes ranging from politics to sports. Uptown Saturday Nights are social functions featuring music from artists such as Kelly Love Jones and Crescendo. Patton also plans to launch Offline, a magazine mirroring much of the Web site's coverage, in time for the Bayou Classic next month. "When people hear our name, NewOrleansBlack.com, sometimes they have a negative reaction to it," says Patton. "But we're not anti anything or anybody; we're pro-African American. We believe if we can grow the black middle class, then it benefits everybody. And that's what we intend to do."

 

Michael T. Johnson, 33
Principal, Advantage Capital Partners

With an educational background that's taken him from Jesuit High School north to Harvard University and then west to Stanford University for law school, Michael T. Johnson is fully aware of the lucrative opportunities available across the country. However, Johnson always wanted to return home, inspired in part to help improve New Orleans' fortunes. Now, he's doing just that by spearheading efforts to bring investment to low-income communities in the area. Johnson first began working at the prestigious Jones Walker law firm, but soon his drive and desire led him to take a chance. "I always had a sense that I wanted to do something a little more entrepreneurial and a little bit more business-focused than just law," says Johnson, who's now with Advantage Capital Partners, Louisiana's first and largest private equity firm, managing more than $500 million in investments. "I like the change of pace, I like the risk," Johnson says of the job he's held since 1998. In March, Johnson was instrumental in helping his firm land the nation's seventh-largest New Markets Tax Credits, a merit-based U.S. Department of the Treasury program that promotes investment in impoverished areas with capital saved through tax credits. Such practice is a specialty of Advantage Capital Partners, which, now in its 10th year, has expanded to investments in six states, with expansion to two more in the works. "To me, this is a great example of the public and private sectors working together," Johnson says of the program. "The government isn't too good at picking out a business for investment. That's what we do on a daily basis. We look to make money, sure, but also to do some good at the same time. It feels good to do that."

 

Kelcy Smith, 19
Equestrian; freshman, University of Georgia

When Kelcy Smith started riding horses, a future gold medal in the Saddle Seat Equitation World Cup Championship was the last thing on her family's minds. She was just a toddler and loved it when her grandparents would take her for pony rides at Cascade Stables in Audubon Park. By age 6, she was taking lessons there; by 9, she had her own horse. One day, her trainer came out to where her mother, Bunny Smith, was waiting to pick up her daughter from her riding lesson. "He said, 'You really need to come see her. She's great,'" Bunny recalls. Kelcy rides American Saddlebred horses in the equitation style, a European form of riding in which exceptional coordination and form are emphasized. In World Cup competition, horsemanship is also a major factor; equestrians must compete on unfamiliar horses. A rigorous competition earned Smith a spot on the U.S. Saddle Seat Equitation World Cup team, whose competition alternates every two years between the United States and South Africa. The team has 10 members -- seven on the Five-Gaited Team, which includes Smith, and three on the Three-Gaited Team. At the 2002 competition in South Africa, Smith's team narrowly beat the host team for the gold. Smith also has been invited to compete on the U.S. Saddle Seat International Invitational team and has consistently earned high marks in the annual World's Championship Horse Show in Louisville, Ky. -- up to third place. She's been out of competition for several months because she was preparing for her freshman year at the University of Georgia, but is currently gearing up for another International Invitational competition in December. Smith has started regular workouts and fallen right back into stride after a few sore mornings. "It's like riding a bike," she says, "a big, unpredictable bike."

 

Yunfeng Lu, 35
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, Tulane University

A native of southern China, Lu received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Jilin University and his masters in polymer science from the Chinese Academy of the Sciences, before traveling to the University of New Mexico for doctoral work in chemical engineering. He has been with Tulane for nearly three years and, in that short time, has attracted international interest for his research in developing high-efficiency solar cells and for his use of nanotechnology. Lu points out that his work has many practical applications for both military and civilian use, from powering the space station to homeland security initiatives to the development of alternative energy sources. For his efforts, Lu was one of only 26 researchers in the country to be selected as an Office of Naval Research Young Investigator; the honor, announced in February of this year, includes a three-year, $300,000 grant for the continuation of his work. More recently, in September, Tulane president Scott Cowen tapped Lu as the first recipient of the university's Presidential Early Career Development Award, citing his more than $1 million in research grants, major awards, wide publication in scientific journals and numerous patent applications. Lu, who has also been recognized by the Chinese National Science Foundation, is doing his part to bring along another generation of scientific thinkers: several of the undergraduate, Ph.D. and post-doctoral students under his supervision are already award winners as well. To top it all off, scientific academia, it seems, is something of a family affair for Lu. "My brother," he reveals, "is also a professor -- of chemistry."

 

Dianne de Las Casas, 33
Children's Art Advocate, Storyteller

If Dianne de Las Casas were a kid, you'd be tempted to call her hyperactive. Because she's an adult, it's best to characterize her as indefatigable. How else to describe someone who publishes three monthly email newsletters, maintains several Web sites, coordinates an artists' network, directs the children's show Story Ballet Magic, raises a teen and a preschooler, and tells stories to more than 50,000 children a year? Since becoming a professional storyteller in 1996, de Las Casas has been redefining the role of children's artist within both the city and the state. Trained as a legal secretary, de Las Casas almost immediately observed that, although there were many talented children's performers here, there was little sense of unity amongst the artists. "I tried to unify the community," she says. "I started out with storytellers, and I built a listserv for Louisiana, so I could disseminate information throughout the state and the nation. Then, I founded ICAN (Independent Children's Artist Network) and began including other artists as well." Currently, ICAN, which operates only through membership fees and no commissions, provides a Web site with information for current and potential members and annually mails a catalog of its performers to schools and other educational organizations statewide. Despite her focus on arts activism, the Harvey resident's first love remains the story; her new CD, Jambalaya -- Stories With Louisiana Flavor, comes out next month.

 


John Payne, 34
Senior Vice President and General Manager, Harrah's New Orleans

It certainly was no gamble for Harrah's to bring John Payne to New Orleans last year as senior vice president and general manager of its Crescent City casino. In seven years with the company, he already had advanced from the developmental position of president's associate to senior vice president and general manager of Harrah's Lake Charles, where he oversaw a successful conversion of the property from a Players to a Harrah's casino and a $56 million expansion. In the process, revenues and operating income increased dramatically and he was given the Corporate Excellence Award, Harrah's highest honor. Payne came to New Orleans in November 2002, and it was largely thanks to his efforts that the casino was able to launch The Besh Steakhouse at Harrah's, helmed by Restaurant August's John Besh, recently named one of Food & Wine's top 10 best new chefs in America. Payne also has a deep commitment to the community; he is a member of the boards of United Way, National Council for Community Justice and Meals on Wheels and works with the New Orleans Tourist Marketing Corporation. "We preach to our executive team as well as our employees that it's important to give back to the community where we operate," Payne says. "We just believe it's the right thing to do." Not one to rest on past laurels, Payne now hopes to develop the New Orleans property, which plays host to 6.4 million visitors a year, into a world-class multi-entertainment venue with a 450-room hotel, unique entertainment choices, and restaurant and shopping venues on a block of Fulton Street owned by Harrah's by about 2005. "We have a wonderful casino with wonderful employees and we want to build it into a world-class entertainment facility," he says. "It will continue to be a great attraction for the city of New Orleans."

 

Redell Hearn, 39
Director, Master of Arts in Museum Studies Program, Southern University at New Orleans

Redell Hearn is no stranger to historical successes. She curated an exhibit at the prestigious Smithsonian Institute while still a student at Syracuse University and now has developed the only master of arts in museum studies program at a historically black university in the country -- and the only such program at any college in Louisiana. "The significance is that the students are training for a degree that is unique in an area that needs employees that are well trained," she says. "For instance, we had a few students from UNO who are now working in major museums in the city. It gives them something unique in their experience that no one else was getting in the area." Hearn not only directs the program, but she brought it to fruition, taking a program that had for years struggled unsuccessfully to get approval, redesigning it, developing a curriculum and receiving approval from the state Board of Regents within six months of her January 2002 hire. Enrollment in the program more than doubled this year. Before coming to SUNO, Hearn, who holds master's degrees in museum studies and philosophy as well as a doctorate in humanities, was curator of history at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. "I was very happy where I was as a curator of the California African American Museum and had been tapped [to teach a] history program," says Hearn, who also is an assistant professor who lectures and consults on issues relating to museums, history and culture. "But this completely is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I knew at some point I would want to go back and teach a program, but to start one from scratch was more than I ever thought I could do."

 

Jeremy Campbell, 27
Filmmaker; Founder, ten18 Films

If you were going to make a film about Jeremy Campbell, you'd have to borrow the title Sudden Impact. A former TV production man whose Auburn, Ala.-based entertainment show The Lori and Jeremy Show was nationally syndicated, Campbell turned to both film and New Orleans in 2000. "I started filming Mardi Gras, second lines, jazz funerals," says Campbell. "That's when ten18 was born. The first things I did were documentary shorts, including my first show at the Mother-in-Law Lounge, and that introduced me to film promotion." Campbell realized there were not only other filmmakers struggling for exposure, but there were also filmmakers around the country trying to do the same thing. That led him to Flicker, which promotes mini-festivals of filmmakers in its nine chapter cities and creates an exchange program within the cities so that filmmakers get exposure across the nation. Last July's first annual anniversary celebration at the Howlin' Wolf -- Campbell prefers music venues to create a livelier vibe -- included audience and jury awards for local filmmakers. Last month, he hosted another mini-festival, "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me ... Short Films That Happen When Love & Hate Collide," a collection of shorts screened at the Bacchanal wine shop in Bywater. The show served as a fundraiser for this week's New Orleans Book Fair. Campbell, whose Don't Worry Honey, I Live Here documentary was released to critical acclaim this past Mardi Gras, wants to diversify with future projects. November events include another Flicker festival as well as a multi-media art show, Art for F--k's Sake, featuring visual arts, fashion, music and film. Campbell also is set to direct a film version of one of the short stories from the recent collection, French Quarter Fiction.

 

Dr. Heidi Unter, 28
Associate Director, UNO Center for Society Law and Justice

As a young Cajun girl growing up in the coastal town of Galliano, Heidi Unter knew how to catch her own seafood, including live crabs. All she needed, she recalls, was two sticks, a string, and a chicken neck for bait. Today, as a rising expert on the local criminal justice system, Unter has more tools at her disposal. She is armed with sophisticated polling techniques and a doctorate in political science she earned from the University of New Orleans in 2001. As associate director of UNO Center for Society Law and Justice, Unter is conducting a major research project on how to keep the understaffed New Orleans Police Department from losing officers. Funded by the private New Orleans Police Foundation, the report will soon be made public. She is working on the project with her academic mentor, UNO pollster Susan Howell, a political science professor who directed Unter's dissertation. "It is very rewarding as a professor to work with a former student as a peer," Howell says. "She is very disciplined, focused and good conceptually. You put that combination -- of being intelligent with a good work ethic -- and you're golden." Unter would be "nationally competitive" in a survey research organization anywhere, Howell adds. But Unter says she loves New Orleans and has no plans to leave. "My goals are to stay in the city and help law enforcement in fighting crime. I can contribute research to the problem." Unter leads a national police integrity grant funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance; she also is currently working on a statewide project aimed at getting various law enforcement entities to share data in real time.

 

Michael Singer, 38
Vice President, Singer Kitchens and Closets Too

Michael Singer credits his grandfather for changing the family business -- Singer Lumber -- from a standard lumber yard into Singer Lumber Mart, located then on Washington Avenue near Earhart Boulevard. It was, says Singer, the region's first "home center." It sold the usual paint, lumber and hardware, but it also had a separate department that sold kitchens. Later, Singer and his father would narrow the focus to kitchens and the company's newest offering -- storage solutions for closets. Today, the $10 million company has six metro-area retail outlets and is one of the most successful independent kitchen and closet dealers in the country. Singer, who worked in various capacities in the company growing up, officially joined the family business after graduating from Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business; he became vice president in 1997 with a 21st-century plan that included new computer systems, improved marketing and Internet-savvy business practices. The ways of doing business aren't the only thing that has changed, Singer says. "Kitchens used to be a room separate unto themselves. Now they're opened to overlook dens and other rooms of the house; they're more into the flow of the home." Singer's regular customers, he says, are waiters, waitresses, schoolteachers, bus drivers, taxicab drivers -- "everyday, hardworking people. ... We kind of made kitchens affordable to the working person -- the average cost is probably between $2,000 and $3,000." Singer now plans to give his customers an affordable options for closets -- about $300 to $400 for a typical reach-in closet, he says. One of the first places he tested the product was the home he shares with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

 

Nelson Eubanks, 32
Writer

You couldn't really call him a New Orleanian, not even a transplanted one. He's too much of an outsider, an observer. For writer Nelson Eubanks, it's a position he's occupied longer than any location. A native New Yorker, Eubanks had early dreams of playing professional soccer, and he did for a short period in Barcelona, Spain, following his graduation from Columbia University in 1994. But other forces pulled on him, and, in 1998, he earned his master's degree in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, followed by a master's of fine arts in the same discipline from Columbia University. His art brought him to New Orleans, he says, with a need to know "how a place drives your mind." His recently published collection of stories, The First Thing Smoking -- which received positive notices from trade publications Publisher's Weekly and Booklist -- delves heavily into this concept, examining the twin themes of individual and racial alienation. The interconnected stories follow Eubanks' main character, Maceo, across neighborhoods, cities, states and countries as he discovers how his ethnicity limits his acceptance among different groups --white, black, brown, even his own family. Eubanks is currently working on his first novel, which will be at least partially set in New Orleans. And so he is here, writing and watching. But -- even with his wanderlust -- he can't help but comment: "People say the longer you're here, the harder it is to leave. I'm beginning to understand what they're talking about."

 

Dr. Frank Welch, 38
Medical Director, Louisiana Office of Public Health

Until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Frank Welch was pursuing his Ph.D. in epidemiology. Since that day, however, his dissertation has been on hold. Welch, the medical director of the state Office of Public Health, has been busy preparing a plan for the state and the city of New Orleans in case of bio-terrorist attack. Beginning last summer, Welch directed a statewide effort to vaccinate 1,200 emergency response officials from 85 hospitals against smallpox, one of the most successful efforts of its kind in the nation. "I am incredibly proud," he says. "Louisiana is far ahead of other states in bio-terrorism preparedness." Recently, Welch also led a general immunization effort that quickly vaccinated 12,000 children statewide, a further demonstration, he says, that Louisiana has the capacity to respond to a bio-terrorist threat, pandemic disease outbreak or natural disaster by providing medicine and vaccinations on a mass scale. In addition, the Los Alamos, N.M., native has played a key role in developing and maintaining the state's nationally recognized immunization database, known as the Louisiana Immunization Network for Kids Statewide. Welch -- who has worked for the state Office of Public Health in New Orleans since 1998 when he served as a medical consultant for environmental epidemiology, addressing public health concerns around Superfund sites -- is active with Project Lazarus, a hospice program for AIDS patients; Kent House, which provides temporary housing for people with HIV or AIDS; and the Human Rights Campaign.

 

Charlotte Bouzigard, 39
Director of Marketing and Advertising, New Orleans Hornets

Charlotte Bouzigard has built her career -- and her personal life -- around helping companies and people gain clear and positive images of who they are and what their potential is. In her position with the Hornets, Bouzigard has helped make the community aware of the team through multi-media campaigns and more. "We definitely wanted to make the Hornets the premier entertainment venue of choice in a city that has a lot of choices," she says. "Based on feedback from the fans, they're very pleased." Before coming to the Hornets, she worked her marketing, branding and advertising magic for TrustFile.com, SunCom/AT&T Wireless, WVUE-TV Fox 8, and Lakeside Shopping Center. Outside of business, Bouzigard coaches girls' basketball because she believes sports builds positive characteristics in children. Additionally, she and her dog, Max, regularly visit hospitals and nursing homes to help speed recovery for the ill and to make the elderly happy. "It brings smiles to kids' faces and to the elderly," she says. "You can really see changes in them." At Celebration Church, she leads a new 12-step support program to help women recover from negative sexual experiences. "It's very edifying to watch them get through the crisis to healing," Bouzigard says. She also says that she likes working for the Hornets because the franchise is very community-minded, which falls in line with her desire to help others. "The Hornets definitely contribute to the community in terms of education, helping children, helping battered women's shelters," she says. "I wanted to work for a strong Christian organization, one that does care for the community."

 

Donald Link, 34
Executive Chef/Co-owner, Herbsaint

Donald Link's first food memories involve Sunday dinners when his grandfather would feed dozens of family members from his backyard garden and whatever else he procured from the land around Sulphur, La. Link remembers shucking beans while watching football on television, the smells of simmering greens and pig's feet in the air; he remembers eating dumplings, skillet cornbread and squirrel. These dinners may have been Link's first lessons in the importance of cooking with quality products, but it wasn't until he spent several years in San Francisco that he learned how to secure similarly top-notch products as a modern-day chef. The relationships he forged with purveyors in California, especially during his stint as purchaser for the restaurant Jardiniere, continue to benefit him -- and his diners -- at Herbsaint. While his Louisiana upbringing and the influence of his mentor and business partner, Susan Spicer, seep into much of Herbsaint's food, Link cooks with organically raised chickens from California; organically raised, high-fat pork from Iowa; and American Kobe beef from Idaho. He explains his affinity for such products this way: "Flavors should come from within food, instead of from adding heavy or elaborate sauces that cover up the integrity of what you're serving." One specifically New Orleans relationship keeps him in fresh supply of vegetables and herbs, allowing him to jazz up dishes without weighing them down. He buys everything the Association for Retarded Citizens can produce in its Uptown gardens, including "the firmest, spiciest watercress I've ever tasted." Link calls his cooking "simple and focused," a style that has earned him both local and national accolades since Herbsaint opened nearly three years ago. In 2002, Forbes.com named him one of the hottest new chefs in the country. That same year, the prickly but fair New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes correctly described one signature dish, shrimp in tasso cream served over a green chile grits cake, as "worth the plane fare to New Orleans."

 

Stephen Bradberry, 37
Head Organizer, ACORN

Stephen Bradberry thought he would return home to Chicago after he graduated from Dillard University. He changed his mind in 1992, after connecting with the Umoja committee, which produces the Celebration of the African American Child each spring at Congo Square. That led him to ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), where, in recent years, Bradberry has led efforts to improve childhood learning opportunities, advocated for living-wage legislation and educated the community about the dangers of lead poisoning. Three years ago, ACORN, under Bradberry's direction, helped put together what would become the city's first funded "21st Century Community Learning Center" -- the North Star Village Urban Heart after-school tutorial program at Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School. ACORN continues to urge the Louisiana Legislature to pass a statewide living wage. And earlier this year, Bradberry and his ACORN colleagues tested 200 homes for the presence of lead, most of them in New Orleans' Eighth Ward. Ninety percent tested as a lead-dust hazard, and so in July ACORN marched through the neighborhood to bring attention to the problem. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that $5 million will go to New Orleans to address the issue. In the coming year, Bradberry sees the group focusing more on neighborhood issues. "Our organizers will be working with people to get more police protection, get a blighted house torn down, get potholes filled," he says. Outside of work, Bradberry is active in the Ausar Auset Society of New Orleans. In the mid-1990s, he took the African name Utcha Shem Aakhut, which means "the way to unity" in Kamitic, an ancient Egyptian language.

 

Daneen Storc, 38
Manager of Production and Local Programming, Cox Communications

Daneen Storc spent most of her career as a writer and producer at local television stations like WDSU, WYES and WNOL-Fox 38. Now she's moved into management at Cox Communications, overseeing other creative people. But Storc is still able to connect with the community, which has always been a priority for her. Her credits reflect this emphasis. She produced one segment of the Emmy Award-winning program Community Kids for WYES, has twice received the Cable Television Public Affairs Association's Beacon Award, and been honored by the Louisiana Cable and Telecommunications Association. Storc joined Cox in 1998 as a producer and director and, in late 2002, became manager of production and local programming. In that capacity, she has been responsible for developing new local programming as well as continuing to maintain preexisting projects such as Louisiana Jukebox, De Todo Un Poco and It's the Law. "Working for Cox is a nice fit for me," she says, "because it's our job to produce local programming that makes a contribution." This fall, Storc partnered with the Press Club of New Orleans for It's Your Vote, the first statewide gubernatorial forum, which Storc executive-produced and for which she arranged broadcast on major cable systems throughout the state. Among her many community activities, Storc -- currently pursuing an MBA at Loyola University -- serves as an advisory board member of the New Orleans Video Access Center.

 

Alex Gershanik, 34
President and instructor, The Power Courses

Alex Gershanik is a multi-talented man whose acumen in the business world could well have brought him fame and fortune. Instead, he has focused his energies on improving people's lives, both in his profession as the president and an inastructor for The Power Courses and in his commitments to various community organizations. Before starting The Power Courses -- review seminars to help students excel on standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, PSAT, the bar exam and others -- he earned a law degree from Georgetown University. He also was president and conductor of a Georgetown symphony for seven years, a radio station news director, editor-in-chief of an entertainment newspaper, an investment counselor, and held positions in several Louisiana political campaigns. What he discovered, however, was that his passion was for the work he did with community groups. He offers The Power Courses free to some nonprofit organizations; vice chairman of Family Services of Greater New Orleans, Gershanik also serves on the boards of VIA-LINK, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Endowment Foundation and is past president of the New Orleans Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Those actions caused Vocero News to name Gershanik one of the 100 Top Hispanics of New Orleans this year. "Everything I do is to foster the whole community," he says, giving his parents credit for his volunteer-mindedness. "Both my parents are big community activists. It's just part of my make-up. ... This is part of who I am. One of the most important things in my life is to be helpful, to figure out how to do things for others. There's no question that a strong part of my life will always be in public service."

 

Chris Lee, 28
Lead vocalist, guitarist
Benji Lee, 25
Lead guitarist, vocalist
Supagroup

The artwork of Supagroup's eponymous debut CD for the Foodchain record label says it all. There's lead guitarist Benji Lee, clutching his guitar in Freudian glee, his left leg propped up on an amp and a face frozen in classic rock 'n' roll snarl. Flip open the airbrush-colored case, and there's frontman Chris Lee, striking a rock-star pose with his microphone, lips in near-pucker and eyes dressing down whoever's foolish to return the stare. Image. It's half of what classic rock 'n' roll is all about, and Supagroup has it down pat. The Brothers Lee, backed by bassist Leif Robinson Swift and drummer Michael Brueggen, have spent five long, hard years crafting their image and their music -- to the point where they seem like a band on the way up and on the verge of something big. This year's release was co-produced at Truck Farm Studios in Bywater by Benji and Kingsway Studios alumna and Grammy-winning producer Trina Shoemaker and mixed by Shoemaker and Leslie Richter at Nashville's Oceanway studio. "It's totally awesome," Benji says of working with Shoemaker. "It was really easy. She's a pro." The Foodchain label told the group last week that nine modern-rock stations across the country have added the album's first release, "What's Your Problem," to their rotation. The song is also expected to become one of the top five additions for "specialty shows," radio shows whose purpose is to feature new songs. Having played its first House of Blues headlining show earlier this month, Supagroup has kept up an extensive touring schedule that includes opening for Supersuckers and will return to New Orleans for this year's Voodoo Music Festival. "I'd have to say the one thing about this band is we've always moved forward musically and professionally, even if it's been at a snail's pace," Chris says. "So far we haven't been satisfied with anything. ... We have a long way to go, but we're getting better, we've improved as a band and we did it our way -- just like Frank Sinatra."

 

Cathy Puett, 36
Founder and executive director, New Orleans Cares

In the early 1990s, Cathy Puett moved from her hometown of Atlanta to New Orleans, where she received a master's degree from the Tulane School of Social Work in 1995. After landing a job in her field, she began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and realized that New Orleans could use a City Cares organization, like those already established in 35 cities. Puett had volunteered with the Atlanta chapter of the organization, which seeks to make volunteer opportunities accessible to people with fulltime employment. And so, in 1999, she founded New Orleans Cares, which has provided busy people with flexible, occasional volunteer work. Every month, Puett plans for about 17 to 20 projects, ranging from five to 30 volunteers a piece. This year, to date, the group has coordinated more than 1,200 volunteer work hours, which means a wealth of help to New Orleans nonprofits -- national figures show that every volunteer hour is worth $15.64. New Orleans Cares volunteers take kids to the zoo, fix dinner for families at the Ronald McDonald House, make sandwiches and bedrolls for a local homeless shelter, clean up playgrounds and parks, and help out with pets at the Humane Society. Puett is particularly fond of the group's work with the elderly, such as Safety of Seniors, undertaken with Volunteers of America, which helps senior citizens with light maintenance like replacing light bulbs or tacking down loose pieces of carpet. Puett -- who is currently a part-time social worker for the heart-and-lung transplant team at Ochsner Hospital -- has been the ultimate volunteer herself, spearheading New Orleans Cares without any financial compensation until recently, when the local chapter received a grant from Singing For Change, the charitable foundation started by musician Jimmy Buffett.

 

Chris Sarpy, 37
Attorney/Developer; Co-owner, Sarpy/Hixon Development

Restoring the historic Woolworth Building in downtown New Orleans is the latest in a series of high-profile redevelopments for Chris Sarpy. When it's complete, the project will be a cornerstone of the ongoing efforts to return Canal Street to its former glory. "We're proposing to bring the facade back to its original condition," Sarpy says. "The building is pretty well intact. All we have to do is restore the exterior finish. It's all concrete and steel; it's a very sturdily built building." The project, tentatively planned to house a restaurant, shops and a parking garage, has received the support of local neighborhood leaders, Sarpy says with understandable relief. Sarpy -- a New Orleans native and Tulane University Law School graduate -- and partner Neal Hixon proposed in 2000 to renovate the historic Arabella Bus Barn on Magazine Street into a large Whole Foods Market with shops and lofts. Neighborhood groups initially objected over such issues as parking, zoning, traffic, and the size of the supermarket. After two years of negotiations, Sarpy/Hixon presented a compromise plan. Today, Whole Foods is a thriving Uptown hot spot, and Sarpy/Hixon was recently honored for the Arabella Project by the New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission and the Louisiana Preservation Alliance. (Sarpy has plans for another Whole Foods in Metairie.) The Woolworth Building, Sarpy hopes, will echo the success of the Magazine Street Whole Foods project, just blocks away from his office. Sarpy likes to frequent the market and watch the shoppers come and go. "It exceeded my expectations," Sarpy says. "It's definitely a source of pride."

 

Cedric L. Myers Jr., 18
Tutor; freshman, Louisiana State University

Before graduating from McDonogh No. 35 High School last year, Cedric L. Myers Jr. successfully tackled a problem that often frustrates Orleans Parish School District officials -- helping students pass the LEAP promotional exam. Under Myers' leadership, four graduating seniors traveled to Joseph Craig Elementary up to three times a week last year to help a group of students prepare for the high-stakes test. As a result, nine of the 10 fourth graders they tutored passed the test, including children who had previously taken and failed the exam. "[Cedric's] commitment and dedication to our students are reflected not only in improved test scores but also in the hearts of the students he and the other students worked with," says Sheila Young, principal of Craig Elementary. Myers says teamwork was key and insists on sharing any credit with his fellow tutors Christopher Diggins, Janina Jeff, Chastity Jones and Jarrel Newman -- all of whom are now enrolled in Louisiana universities. In the summer of 2002, Myers and his classmates realized they needed to complete a community service project to graduate. So they formed the nonprofit Initiating a Circle of Education or I.C.E. Criminal Court Judge Charles Elloie and the late Dr. Morris Jeff Jr. helped the students obtain $1,200 in funding for the project. "The program at first was a challenge because of the high-strung nature of the kids," Myers says. "We really got to experience what teachers go through on a daily basis." By the end of the seven-month program, however, the children were treating the older students like friends and role models. Myers says the thank-you cards he received from the children now hang in his dorm room at Louisiana State University, where he is a freshman majoring in psychology.

 

Bonnie Goldblum, 37
Executive Director, Longue Vue House and Gardens

Following a career path she describes as "long and winding," current Longue Vue House and Gardens Executive Director Bonnie Goldblum, a former ice cream maker and lawyer, didn't realize her hobby of gardening would eventually turn into a job she loves. "When I was working as a lawyer," Goldblum remembers, "being in the garden was where I could really get away. It cleared my head. It was very satisfying." Goldblum's love of gardens inspired her to volunteer her efforts in creating a community garden in her Uptown neighborhood. Goldbum planted herbs and flowers that became the root of her ice cream business, which began after friends commented on how much they enjoyed the roughly 25 to 30 flavors of herbal and floral sorbets Goldblum prepared. Eventually Goldblum learned of a job working as director of Longue Vue's Discovery Garden, an educational romping ground for children. When visiting the historic property for the job interview, Goldblum recalls "being blown away by the beauty of the place and how engaged one became in its environment. I was immediately hit by the potential of this place to make an impact in the community." Now in her fifth year at Longue Vue with two of those as executive director, Goldblum remains dedicated to her mission of continuing -- and expanding -- Longue Vue's traditions of philanthropy and outreach, which now include educational programs serving high-risk public schools and a horticulture-based youth entrepreneurship program. "I think a lot of people have a hard time getting past just our pretty face," Goldblum says, "but the mission and soul of Longue Vue is helping the community, and that's what makes us vital to New Orleans."

 

Kathy Randels, 34
Actor, Performance Artist, Founder and Artistic Director of ArtSpot Productions

As a performing artist, Kathy Randels has been, in the words of one of her productions, to The End and Back Again. In 1997, the New Orleans native received a grant that allowed her to travel to Belgrade, where she worked with the Dah Teatar group until NATO bombing forced her to flee to Louisiana. Closer to home, she has directed local high school students in the Lower 9 Stories and, with Kumbuka African Dance and Drum Collective director Ausettua Amor Amenkum, works at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, collaborating with prisoners on shows staged within the penitentiary's walls. Randels' work also includes the one-woman performance pieces Rage Within/Without (about women and violence) and The End and Back Again, My Friend (about war in general and Serbia in particular). Randels attended Hines Elementary School and Eleanor McMain High School and NOCCA; she went on to study at the prestigious theater program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She still recalls a senior-year conversation with a friend, who said that, after graduation, she hoped to act on Broadway. Randels then found herself articulating her goal: "I want to be an internationally touring performance artist." Randels continues to expand on that goal. This year, along with Lisa D'Amour and Katie Pearl, she received an Obie Award for the New York production of their play Nita and Zita. She is currently at work on a new play about Joan of Arc, titled The Maid of Orleans, which will debut locally in January 2004. Audiences should expect to be challenged in this work and others, she says. "The best artists raise questions, rather than provide answers," she says. "I want to bring things that I'm confused about -- that I think the community or world at large is confused about -- and raise the questions. Hopefully, collectively, we can work it out."

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